Open Discussion: Library vs. Mom's for Liberty: Library Loses -- Free Speech Wins (of course)

Davis Downtown names Brett Lee as executive director

Brett Lee (Courtesy photo)

(From press release) Former Davis Mayor Brett Lee has been named executive director of the Davis Downtown Business Association, effective June 3.

Lee replaces Brett Maresca, who stepped down from the role on Jan. 26 to pursue other opportunities. Former Davis City Manager Dirk Brazil has been interim executive director since Feb. 12.

Lee served on the Davis City Council from 2012 to 2020 – the last two of those years as mayor. He’s a third-generation Davis resident and is raising his 15-year-old son here. Lee has degrees from UC Berkeley and the London School of Economics. For the past nine years, he has worked as a process improvement engineer for Farm Fresh to You, a subscription-based organic produce delivery service of Capay Organic farm.

Kevin Wan, president of the Davis Downtown board of directors, is thrilled to welcome Lee. “His existing relationships with city staff and his experience with the politics of Davis make him the perfect fit to lead Davis Downtown and champion our mission. Since his days on City Council, he has always been an advocate of our downtown, especially for clean and safe streets, which – year after year – is a top concern with our membership. His skill set will be a tremendous asset to help us navigate an evolving economic landscape.”

Lee thinks his connections are just part of why he was hired. “As a council person, in order to get something done, you have to be a part of at least three votes. … That’s an important thing around the downtown. You’re dealing with unique personalities. How do we work together and land on something meaningful – and a consensus?”

Lee’s work as a process improvement engineer “looks at the process, what you’re trying to achieve and how to best get there,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for most of my career.” There are always ways to make things more efficient, and improve results for business owners as well as patrons.

Initially, Lee wants to talk to as many DDBA members as possible. (All businesses in the city’s core area pay a mandatory fee as part of a business improvement district). He hopes to strengthen the relationships between downtown businesses, the city and UC Davis.

Lee believes “working with the city and the university will be essential components to the success of our downtown.”

At its May 9 meeting, the Davis Downtown board of directors unanimously approved Lee’s hiring.

Wan, owner of Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, said board members are excited. “Above all else, he loves Davis. And that was the thing we were looking for most in our next executive director. We are so privileged to bring him on board.”

Davis Downtown leads and energizes the downtown as the primary business, entertainment and cultural center of Davis. Alive with activity seven days a week, downtown Davis draws locals and visitors alike to experience fine food and beverages, retail, professional services, arts and entertainment in an extraordinary and sustainable gathering place.

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Greg Rowe

Good move by the DDBA. I started working with Brett in 2015 on efforts to move UCD toward building more on-campus student housing, and continued interacting with after I began serving on the Planning Commission in 2018. I consistently found him to be a good listener and open-minded. His analytical skills help give him a nuanced perspective on important public policy issues and events. One might not always agree with him, but you know that he reached his conclusions after careful thought and consideration.

Alan C. Miller

True 'dat

Ron O

Brett certainly shocked some folks, when he supported the University Mall residential proposal (seemingly at the "last-minute"). Some folks apparently understood (assumed?) that he would oppose it.

And yet, Lucas (as I recall) ended up opposing it. As did Will Arnold.

Backwards world.

And all for naught, in the end. Though I'm glad that Davis is going to get a brand spankin' new mall.

Greg Rowe

Ron O. is correct, Brett had previously indicated that he was leaning toward opposing the mixed-use mall with 264 luxury student housing units comprised of 622 beds in the "bed rental" model. The EIR disclosed that the "retail only" alternative was the Environmentally Superior Alternative due to significant and unavoidable impacts, including transportation, circulation, bicycle and pedestrian intersection impacts associated with the mixed-use student housing project.

The Planning Commission unanimously opposed that project at its workshop on December 11, 2019, and unanimously and emphatically recommended against the mixed-use student housing/retail project at its meeting of May 27, 2020 (almost 4 years ago). Council vote the other way on July 21, 2020. If memory serves correctly, Brett voted for the project after getting Brixmor (the developer) to agree to a 10-foot height reduction. Lucas and Will voted "no."

The real upshot here is that in 2022 a number of community members expressed concern that the "retail only" project was a lost opportunity for housing. The actuality is that the opportunity for any type of housing at the site was lost in July 2020 when the Council approved the new "mixed-use" zoning designation, which was finalized with adoption of Resolution 20-199 on December 15, 2020.

If Council had instead followed the Planning Commission's recommendation in July 2020 and rejected the proposed "mixed-use" project, it would have given the City an opportunity to "go back to the drawing board" with Brixmor and perhaps negotiate a project with conventional multi-family housing units. That opportunity was lost when the "mixed-use" designation was adopted, because it meant that Brixmor could either build the project with or without housing, but that the City had no leverage to force the developer to include housing.

In reality, the opportunity for housing was lost in December 2020, not two years later.

Greg Rowe

And the entire conversation about intensive, luxury, rent-by-the bed student housing at University Mall would have never occurred except for the fact that an undisclosed City staff member suggested it to Brixmor. This happened in 2016 when Brixmor initially informed the City that renovation of the mall was contemplated. (I got this information from Brixmor VP Bill Brown.)

No one I've spoken to on City staff knows the identify of the unknown staff member, but I have my suspicions. I think it may have been someone who is no longer employed by the City, and does not live in Davis. A better suggestion would have been for conventional apartments that could have been rented by university staff. Even that would have been difficult, because housing is not what Brixmor does. It builds and manages shopping centers, not housing.

R Keller

GR stated “That opportunity was lost when the "mixed-use" designation was adopted, because it meant that Brixmor could either build the project with or without housing, but that the City had no leverage to force the developer to include housing.”

That doesn’t accurately tell the story. If you actually read the language in the Mixed Use designation, it does require a residential component. The real problem was the way that City staff misinterpreted the language to allow the developer to wriggle out of their requirements. I provided a detailed analysis here:

It you want to blame someone: blame the Planning Commission and City staff: As I stated in the article:

“In conclusion, the PC should not have been able to make a finding in its 3/8/2023 meeting that “The proposed project conforms to the General Plan and is consistent with the objectives of the General Plan and Zoning, complies with applicable zoning regulations.” The Staff Report did not present adequate evidence in the report to support this, and it contained errors, omissions, and mischaracterizations. The proposed commercial-only project is not consistent with the stated purpose and rationale of the Mixed Use designation and its associated zoning.”

Here’s some of the key info supporting this:
“One key issue is this assertion by City staff on page 9 of the 3/8/2023 staff report for the Planning Commission (my emphasis):

“The proposed project is consistent with the General Plan designation and Zoning for…The [Mixed Use] designation allows and encourages a mix of retail, office, research, and residential uses on the same site or building as a means of supporting different land uses and achieving related policy goals. However, it does not require a mix.”

…after a thorough review of materials going back to their 2020 adoption, I can find no previous mention of the residential component of the Mixed Use (MU) designation and Planned Development (PD) zoning as being optional--this appears to be a novel interpretation put forth by City staff specifically for the recent meeting. I believe that an accurate reading of the actual language in the General Plan and Zoning Code indicates otherwise and that, in fact, a residential component is required for the property under the current land use designation and zoning district applied to it. It is important to remember that the new MU designation, General Plan Amendment, and PD zoning were approved simultaneously by the Council as the University Mall project itself, so this portion of the General Plan had the most specific guidelines for the property.”

You can read the derailed evidence for these assertions in the article. Some of this includes:

“Residential uses are a fundamental purpose of the zone and are required (“the purpose of the PD District is to provide a suitable residential environment…”).”

“…specific requirements that were adopted as part of the MU designation/zone by the City Counc in 2020

“The following special considerations shall be applied:

“Include a mix of high density residential uses with convenient retail and services for the daily needs of residents or with space for job-generating office uses and/or research and development (laboratory) uses.” (p. 04A - 130)”

As a postscript, it turns out the appeal that Vaitla filed didn’t address these issues, and he missed the deadline for EIR/CEQA appeal anyway. That was a missed opportunity.

Colin Walsh

Rik is right on this. The language in the mixed use zoning clearly required housing. the city staff and city attorney mislead the planning commission. Vaitla's appeal was well intended but ill-informed and completely left out anything that would give the council a good legal reason to do something different. frankly Vaitla's appeal didn't seem to have even read the actual zoning and instead relied on the vague and poorly defined language in the general plan that was very open to interpretation.

Greg Rowe

For some additional context, below is text of an email sent by Jenny Tan of the City on March 7, 2022 to a member of the public who had submitted comments regarding the University Commons (mall) design review that was to be on the March 8 Planning Commission agenda. This message was copied to City Council and the Planning Commission. The Commission based its deliberations on this information, along with the information in the staff report. It is my understanding that the message from the City was written jointly by the City Attorney and Planning staff.

· A property owner has the right to build or improve their property, within the regulations of the local zoning code, which in this instance allows retail-only or mixed-use. City staff have been in multiple conversations with the property owner at University Mall regarding building a residential mixed-use project and to ascertain what, if any, City support would assist in bringing the housing portion of the project to fruition. The property owner at University Mall has consistently told the City that they will not build mixed-use and they will pursue retail-only. The City does not have the authority to force the property owner at University Mall to build mixed-use apartments or housing if they are proposing development that is within the current zoning requirements and standards. The zoning of the property allows retail-only use of the property with an option to include residential use, but does not mandate residential. There is no legal basis for the City to impose such a mandate.

· The current proposal by the property owner is for design review of a retail-only project, and will go to the Planning Commission on March 8, 2023. Final approval of the project design rests with the Planning Commission, unless the Planning Commission decision is appealed to the City Council. It should be noted that both the Planning Commission and the City Council only have legal authority to act on the design of the proposed retail-only project, and do not have the authority to deny the proposal due to lack of a housing component.

Housing is a priority for the City and we have been working on multiple fronts to support the health and wellbeing of our residents by increasing housing with projects such as Nishi apartments, Olive Drive mixed-use, Ryder on Olive Drive apartments, 3820 Chiles Road apartments, Plaza 2555 apartments, Identity Davis apartments, Sterling apartments, Cannery apartments, and others. You can see the variety of development projects for commercial, mixed-use and residential at:

Ron O

Housing is a priority for the City and we have been working on multiple fronts to support the health and wellbeing of our residents by increasing housing . . .

Seems to me that increasing the amount of housing generally accommodates non-residents.

Collin Walsh

I remember the Jeny Tan letter. In my opinion the planning commission should have relied on the actual zoning code rather than a letter about it from the communications director. The letter was not right. That said, when staff misrepresents what the actual law is it puts the planning commission in a terrible position, so I can certainly understand why the planning commission relied on the letter from Jenny Tan.

Had Vaitla shown evidence of how Tan's letter was at odds with the actual code it would have given the City Council a legal reason to accept the appeal. Here again in some ways I don't blame Bapu. He had no background in planning, law or city government to draw on. He meant well but was woefully inexperienced.

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